Platelets from patients with Montreal platelet syndrome (MPS) consistently display a defect in the mechanisms that regulate platelet size during shape change and undergo spontaneous aggregation and stir- induced microaggregate formation. We now provide data that the surface glycoprotein composition of MPS platelets is indistinguishable from that of normal platelets. However, a defect in calcium-activated neutral proteinase (calpain) was detected in MPS platelets. The specific activity of calpain in the cytosolic fraction of platelets from four MPS patients was found to be only 30% of that in platelets from normal control donors (n = 18, P less than .001). Additionally, platelets from MPS patients (n = 3) contained only 50% (P less than .001) of the calpain I catalytic subunit antigen found in platelets from normal control donors (n = 9). Platelets from the asymptomatic father/grandfather of the MPS patients had normal amounts of both total calpain proteolytic activity and calpain I catalytic subunit antigen. This represents the first report of a defect in calpain in human cells. The abnormally low calpain activity in MPS platelets may account for the platelet defects characteristic of this disorder.